Warhammer 40K: Boltgun Preview: Die by the Chainsword

The continued wave of boomer shooters joins the ranks of Warhammer‘s notable spinoff games with the upcoming retro-FPS Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun. It’s a brightly colored and busy shooter, filled with tangible references to the classic Doom and Quake games, but also with a few mod cons and a melee-oriented set of combat abilities. There’s plenty of gore to go with the grimdark Warhammer 40K sci-fi tone, and the exclusive preview build of this light score-attack FPS provides a promising taste of its throwback pseudo-3D gameplay.

A lengthy intro tosses the player into the fracas, a space marine dropped off near a snowy mountain cliffside which opens up into a sci-fi fortress infested with the forces of Chaos. Paired with a floating skull assistant, players figure out mobility basics while testing out combat; in a nice twist, Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun features a generous mantle to scramble over edges and a powerful instantaneous dash-chainsword grind which briefly pauses time to select a target. On easy and medium difficulties, the latter ability can carry the bulk of a level aside from larger firefights, though things gets considerably tougher on harder modes.

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Some handy firearms can be snatched up in each level, with special time-limited mods for the titular weapon available to persistent secret-hunters. Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun feels especially aligned in this respect with 2016’s Doom and its love of hidden areas and armories, even though this game doesn’t feature any modular upgrade systems, with any boltgun boosts unloaded between levels. It feels appropriate to the smaller scope of the game, and the few available guns worked well, though it’s also worth mentioning that the shotgun felt a little underwhelming.

While Boltgun doesn’t include the all-powerful kick ability from Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, there is a dashing shove which functions in much the same way, affording opportunities to send enemies flying off of cliff edges. Still, the majority of the game’s mobs mostly stare and shoot at the player from afar or jockey around cover. Locked-room scenarios trap the player as mobs spawn throughout the arena, creating situations which feel identical to classic shooters from decades past, and one enemy could be Doom’s classic Pinky demon at a glance.

At times, the minute-to-minute gameplay is comparable to Humble Games’ recent hit FPS Prodeus, albeit with a much lower pixel count and purposefully garish presentation. Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun similarly utilizes a quasi-3D effect, which adds some depth to the otherwise flat, barely animated enemy sprites. The platforming and mantling help complete the three-dimensional illusion, and it’s great fun to scope out different angles of approach for each battle while also digging around for secret nooks and crannies.

Barring any wild developments to come in later levels, though, Boltgun remains focused and simple throughout, all centered on run-and-gun action in between pursuit of keys. There are much fewer enemies per level than, say, the Serious Sam games, but it’s at times reminiscent of that series in terms of its often Zen-like perpetual FPS action. The boltgun feel precise enough that single-hit enemies can be confidently scanned and dispatched from a distance, and closing in for melee kills feels meaty and satisfying, while also serving as a tactical reposition to use and abuse.

Players who’ve never touched the Warhammer 40K universe will have no problem keeping up here, as Boltgun requires no previous knowledge of the franchise. Through squinted eyes, the game really could be any number of older properties, or even an old elaborate mod for Hexen II. That being said, there do appear to be plenty of franchise hat-tips and nods to the fans, even via quips made by the Servo-skull familiar.

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun’s main differentiators are its combat abilities, which add just enough spice to its boomer shooter essentials (and it would be fantastic if there exist other abilities to unlock later in the game). With just about an hour of gameplay, the preview seems like a great taste of the longer experience, though it did grow a little tedious fighting the small roster of available enemies through rather same-y environments. Anyone looking for some solid boomer shooter basics with fan-service branding should keep a lookout for Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun’s release later this year.

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Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun releases in 2023 on PC, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. A preview digital PC code was provided to Screen Rant for the purpose of this review.

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